Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, I'll Vote for You

The other day Daniel Larison wrote a good post about Hillary Clinton's role in, and major responsibility for, engineering the NATO air war against Libya.  It should be as serious a liability for her Presidential campaign as, say, Jeb Bush's approval of his brother's invasion of Iraq, but it probably won't be.

Larison takes the opportunity to list some of what critics of the Libya "intervention" wrote about it at the time:
We suspected that the justification for the intervention was exaggerated or simply false. We argued that the motivation for it was likely ideological.  We observed that support for the war was based in a misguided belief that the U.S. could get on the “right” side of the “Arab Spring” and that the U.S. would then enjoy a “new beginning” with people across the region. We noticed right away that the administration exceeded the authority provided by the U.N. resolution, and we understood that it was seeking regime change from the start despite Obama’s claims that this was not the goal. We pointed out that the war actually violated the requirements of the “doctrine” that it was supposed to be vindicating. We pointed out that interventionists were staking the reputation of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine on the outcome of the Libyan war, and helped to discredit the doctrine they were using to justify intervention. We noted that attempts by the African Union and others to mediate the conflict were brushed aside and ignored by the intervening governments.
This, along with a rereading of my own posts on Libya, reminded me of what I've been reading lately about Republican mendacity about the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  There have been a lot of online opinion pieces and memes about how we were lied into Bush's war, which is true enough.  But equally true, we were lied into Obama and Clinton's war on Libya.  The two cases aren't identical, but there are a lot of similarities, starting with the falsehoods used to push the intervention, the way official rationales changed daily as expediency required, and concluding with the devastation of the country and descent into civil war when it was over -- over for NATO, that is.  The Good Guys we were supporting, the rebels, turned out to be thoroughly bad guys after all, but of course no one could possibly have foreseen that, and we had to do something.

So, as Larison concludes:
The war’s supporters largely escape blame for being so horribly wrong about the intervention, and the war’s opponents are typically never credited with having warned against the disastrous blunder before it happened.
This is true of the Iraq war too.  Because those who opposed it turned out to be right, it is all the more imperative that they be ignored and forgotten.

I see two crucial differences between Iraq and Libya.  For Democratic loyalists the important difference is that the Libyan bombing was the work of a Democratic administration, so of course it can't possibly be compared to Bush's invasion of Iraq.  The other difference is that US ground forces weren't involved, so there were no American casualties, and the scale of destruction and slaughter among Libyans was much smaller than among Iraqis.  This is vital.  Republicans are squirming to evade their responsibility for the invasion of Iraq, and to rewrite the history to justify it, because it cost the US an enormous amount in "blood and treasure" as the cliche puts it, and with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, Bush's failure to produce a satisfactory outcome can't be ignored by Republican presidential candidates.  Libya, by contrast, can be ignored.

That's why it will be relatively easy for Clinton to evade responsibility for the debacle.  As one commenter on Larison's post wrote, "Mention Libya to a typical Republican, and their first response will probably be something like ‘you mean Benghazi’? And this will no doubt be the angle for whichever Republican candidate runs against Hillary."  I suspect that the typical Democrat will also think of Benghazi when Libya is brought up:  anyone who is critical of the attack on Libya is obviously a Republitard who wants to blame Hillary for Benghazi.  That makes it easy for both parties to ignore the real human cost of their wars, because if there's one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, it's that only American lives matter.  That's the Republicans' PR problem: every veteran with a prosthetic limb, every homeless, traumatized veteran in your town or on TV is a reminder of Bush''s wars.  (That many of them are veterans of the war in Afghanistan, which Obama escalated and has kept going throughout his terms, is no help, since no adult can forget who started that war to begin with.)  But Libya?  Libyans have to live with the consequences of Obama's and Clinton's "humanitarian intervention," but Americans don't, so Obama's and Clinton's lies about their wars aren't likely to bother the Democrats who are indignant about Bush's, Cheney's and Rumsfeld's dishonesty.